13 Jul 2020

The Power of an Apology


Why do some lawyers advise their clients never to apologise – even when there has been some mismanagement, misunderstanding or misrepresentation? Of course, an admission of liability is (generally) to be avoided but an apology does not necessarily involve an admission.

YESS sees so many employees who just want an apology and an acknowledgement that things could have been done better. This goes a long way in helping them to feel as though justice has been done. 

“Justice” is a slippery term and understandably means different outcomes to different people.  Even employees who win a case in the EMployment Tribunal often do not feel that justice has been done. This may be because the compensation awarded was too low or their career prospects have been damaged for being a ‘trouble maker’.  It is rarely a ‘win’ and even less a ‘win-win’.

Employees want their employer to listen and take their concerns seriously.  Sometimes, if this happens, the concern is dispelled, particularly if the conversation happens early enough.  An early apology for a misunderstanding can help the healing process and preserve the relationship.  It should also stave off a formal grievance (which rarely resolves anything in our experience – usually causing lost work time and stress for all).

So, YESS’s top tips:

  1. Employers should encourage early discussion of employees’ concerns with a view to finding a solution, as opposed to waiting until issues become entrenched problems,
  2. Both parties should be ready to say sorry where something has gone wrong and they are at least partly at fault or even just seen to be at fault; even if it is ‘Sorry for any misunderstanding but let’s try and sort it out,’
  3. Employers and employees should avoid grievances – except when all else has failed; too many employees go straight for a grievance and too many employers refuse to address issues outside a formal grievance process.
  4. Lawyers should always focus first on resolving disputes –  if at all possible.
  5. Disputes are often escalated by legal threats; stating the facts is often just as powerful and gets a better result.
  6. If one party makes a threat, do not respond in kind: a simple rebuttal and diffusion is a much better way of reaching resolution and avoiding a fight.
  7. And finally, we recommend ‘Getting Past No’ by William Ury – a brilliant book on how to negotiate where your opponent will not engage.
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